Here you can read the experiences of one of our Indian students with the Master TDM from the field research in Myanmar. Enjoy the read!

We landed at Yangon airport on 1st February. The first encounter with the airport staff, when I asked directions  for  the  toilette,  showed  the  language  barrier  that  we  were  going  to  face  the  entire duration  of  our  stay  at  Myanmar.

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As  we  stepped  out  into  the  city,  my impression  was  a  feeling  of being back in India. It was oddly familiar. It seemed to be a part of the diverse India, with a different language  and  different  culture,  but  the  atmosphere  felt  the  same.  In  the  cab  ride  to  my  hotel,  I noticed  how  my  Italian  classmate  was  looking  out  of  the  window  filled  with  awe.  It  was  only  then that  I  realized,  that  even  though  it  is  so  familiar  for  me,  it  is not  so  with  the  students  from  the western  countries.  Speaking  to  them  later,  I  noticed  how  they  were  overwhelmed  with  the  unruly traffic, the food and the weather.  We spent two days in Yangon, meeting with different stakeholders. Even though I missed out on the first  day,  my  fellow  classmates  told me  about  their  exciting  day  meeting  stakeholders,  the  minister of Tourism, and young bright tourism students. They even enjoyed the day roaming around Yangon. They were amused with some of the locals who wanted to take pictures with them, the tourists.

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It reminded me of my childhood, when I too had taken a picture with a tourist in front of the Taj Mahal (my sister managed to find the picture 🙂 ). The excitement of seeing a tourist and approaching him for a picture seems  silly to me now, but back then it  was a thrilling experience.

On day two, having reached  the  place  of  our  meeting  early,  I  and  some  of  my  classmates  decided  to  walk  through  the streets. We came across a local market with vegetables, fruits, fish and meat. It was a narrow street with  open  shops  on  footpaths  on  both  sides.  While  this  didn’t  surprise  me  too  much,  the  looks  on my  friends  faces  was  that  of  fascination.  It  being  so  new,  they  started  clicking  pictures  of  the  local market.  However,  they  were  frequently  interrupted  by  the  honking  of  different  cars and  bikes. Again,  something  that  doesnt  surprise  me,  but  they  jumped  out  of  shock  every  time  a  vehicle honked. I loved the look of annoyance on their faces.

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After Yangon, we went to Bagan, the city of temples. There are over 3000 pagodas/temples/stupas there,  and  we  learnt  that  about  80%  of  Bagan  relies  on  tourism.  The  giant  Buddha  statues,  the architecture, and frescos are a must see. In one of the temples, there are 80 carving  on the walls of the  temple  depicting  the  story  of  Buddha.  What  was  noticeable,  is  how  the  names  of  donors arementioned  around  most  of  these  temples,  dating  back  to  the  11th  century  as  well  as  those  donors who  helped  restore  some  of  the  monuments  that  were  destroyed  during  the  1975  earthquake.  At Bagan we rented e-bikes and rode through the streets.

From Bagan, our next stop was at Inle Lake. Even  though Inle  means 4  vilages  in  Burmese,  it  now  has  over  400  villages.  We  were  taken around  on  boats  to  some  of  the  villages,  and  saw  lotus  weaving  and  wood  carving  workshops amongst others. It was exciting to see the fishing style, the floating gardens, and the various houses standing on wooden logs in the water.  There  were  some  interesting  things  about  the  local  culture.  What  is  immediately  noticeable  is  the use of the bark of Thanaka tree, as a cosmetic or sunscreen. It is also used for its medicinal purposes. The people of Myanmar always greet you with a big smile. When giving us something, they use both hands  as  a  sign  of  respect.  While  crossing in  front  of us,  they  always  bow  a little.  Most  of  us  had  a little  trouble  with  food  though.  It  is  usually  fried,  and  takes  some time  getting  used  to.  But  what amazed  me  most  about  the  country  is  the  innocence  and  the  trust  of  the people.  When  I  went  to rent an e-bike at Bagan, they neither asked for an advance payment, nor did they ask for a proof of identity. I used the e-bike all day, and they took the payment after I returned the e-bike. It makes me feel overwhelmed and sad at the same time. I fear about how long this innocence and trust will stay in this country, which has only recently opened up to the rest of the world.

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What  I  like  enjoyed  most  of  my  days  spent  here,  is  how  this  little  trip  has  opened  my  eyes.  What would  have  otherwise  been  something  so  familiar,  I  now  started  seeing  through  the  eyes  of  a westerner. It  was  all  chaos  for  them,  and I  could  see them  trying  to  understand  how  it  all  works in this  chaos.  I  listened  carefully  to  the  various  questions  and  interpretations  that  my  classmates  had about why there were posters nailed to trees, or why people were sitting on the aisles of the buses, or where the children go to school. What I would have consider as obvious, being with this diverse international class had got me started on thinking about the vast differences of how  things work in different places. I look forward to more surprises in Myanmar and our next trip to Bali.

Text by Priya Ranjani Das – Credits for the photographs included in this post go to Elisa Droll.